China's Relentless Persecution of Tibet Must End Now | Opinion

In His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama's last meeting with Chairman Mao Zedong in 1955, Mao drew close to him and said, "Religion is poison."

"At this," recounts His Holiness in his autobiography, Freedom in Exile, "I felt a violent burning sensation all over my face and I was suddenly very afraid. 'So,' I thought, 'you are the destroyer of the Dharma after all.'"

Mao's convictions indeed led to devastating consequences for Tibet as a Buddhist nation—including the destruction of more than 6,000 Tibetan monasteries, the disrobing and killing of thousands of monks and nuns. Estimates put the number of Tibetans tortured, starved, and executed at anywhere from 400,000 to 1.2 million. The International Commission of Jurists officially recognized these atrocities as genocide in 1961.

Today, the Chinese Communist Party, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, professes a deep commitment to identifying and caring for the reincarnation of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. But how can we possibly believe that the CCP intends to take care of the future of Tibetan Buddhism? There is no doubt as to what the Chinese regime's actual goal is: total control of the Tibetan people, who revere His Holiness.

Take the subject of reincarnation—believing in rebirth after death. It's a sacred tradition among Tibetan Buddhists with an over nine-hundred-year history. In 2007, the CCP issued a requirement that living Buddhas, who are reincarnated lamas, must be approved by the CCP under Order No. 5. It's an outrageous and disgraceful order, as the Dalai Lama pointed out at the time while giving assurances that clear guidelines will be issued about his reincarnation, "to leave no room for doubt and deception."

Is Order No. 5 the action of a government that truly intends to protect Tibetan Buddhism? It is not the business of any government to tell a religious group who ought to lead it. That's their call, plain and simple.

Fortunately, in 2020, the United States countered this grave injustice with the historic Tibet Support and Policy Act (TPSA). The Act commits, among other things, "to support the fundamental rights of Tibetan Buddhists to select, elect and educate their own spiritual leaders."

This landmark legislation also clearly stakes out the United States' position on the Dalai Lama's succession, which "should be left solely to the Tibetan Buddhists to decide, without interference from anyone including the Chinese government." The TPSA also made clear that those who interfere "will be denied entry into the United States."

But the passage of TPSA 2020 was not meaningful only for Tibetans. Because religious freedom is a borderless principle, the Act is a sign of hope and support to the many peoples oppressed by China, including Uighurs, Hongkongers, Southern Mongolians, Falun Gong practitioners, Christians, Taiwanese, and Chinese citizens.

Tibetan monks take part in a function organized to mark the 80th birthday celebrations of Dalai Lama in Kathmandu July 6. Nepal ceased issuing refugee papers to Tibetans in 1989 and recognizes Tibet to be a part of China. Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters

But even with this positive legislation, persecution of Tibetan Buddhists, along with people of faith from every corner of the CCP's reach, continues unabated. The CCP, through committees chaired by party leaders set up in each monastery in Tibet, manages every aspect of spiritual and educational activities. Young disciples are prevented from becoming monks or nuns, thereby decimating the ranks of those who wish to preserve Buddhism. Prayer flags have been outlawed. Religious rituals and festivals, banned. And the two biggest, most historic monasteries have been demolished.

The Tibetan language itself, a key component of the preservation of the essence of Tibetan Buddhist principles, is under threat, as the CCP aggressively forces students to switch from their native language to Mandarin.

To even possess a small image of His Holiness leads to immediate and severe punishment. And the oppression of Tibet and Tibetans doesn't stop with religious persecution. Arbitrary arrest, detention and imprisonment are common.

Tibet is a police state, and has been for decades. Out of approximately 200 national entities listed by Freedom House, Tibet is ranked along with Syria as the least free. In protest against the China's relentless repressive policies, 157 Tibetans have committed the desperate act of self-immolation since 2009. Of these, 125 are known to have died. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has described the situation in Tibet as "a Hell on Earth."

Still, our will not be extinguished. The International Religious Freedom Summit of 2021, taking place in Washington on July 13-15, provides an opportunity to join hands in proclaiming that religious freedom knows no boundaries. It is an essential human right, and it is under attack in Tibet and throughout the world.

As for the CCP's attempts to select the next leader of Tibetan Buddhists, we stand with His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, when he suggested that the Chinese Communist Party should first identify Mao and Deng's reincarnations. Until then, we hope many will join us at the Summit to highlight these and other religious freedom abuses, as we work together to bring an end to persecution of all faiths, all around the world.

Sam Brownback formerly served as U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom. Ngodup Tsering serve as representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Washington, D.C.

The views in this article are the writers' own.